By Barrister Aemen (Founder of Josh and Mak International AND a parent/wife/home-maker)
Hi everyone, I know I have been away on almost a year long (on and off) sick-leave due to health issues brought on with the birth of my most recent bundle of joy.This only makes me value the importance of a smooth married life more and more.Now as I was sick, mails piled up in my account for advice on divorce and khula, a topic I dread most of all.In fact I start every day wishing some of these mails will simply never make it to my inbox.Now that I have returned to work (even though part-time), I thought I would write some sensible if not legal observations to start today.
There you go, I will say it!
It breaks my heart to see so many requests for advice on Divorce, Khula and Child Custody.For years I tried to avoid being labelled a ‘family law practitioner’ or a hardcore feminist as every other person would like to assume seeing my professional battle in Pakistan.Honestly, the word divorce, depresses me.For a I wanted to bin any query which mentioned divorce.Then I realised maybe I need to help people by guiding them correctly.My first response to any query is to ask the parties to calm down and swallow their ego and pride as divorce is never the way out to resolve a bad marriage especially where any kids less than 18 years of age are involved.
I try not to judge people but the words between the lines in the queries we get are very clear and the history of the relationship becomes more than visible.Sometimes it will be a couple who once dearly loved one another and then ‘reality’ happened to the relationship.Unhappy mother-in-laws, over protective fathers and brothers/sisters.In Pakistan a person’s marriage is a political playground for his/her relatives.Families ‘flex their muscles’ through vulgar shows of wealth on weddings and then by hiring expensive lawyers to show that they can make or break their son or daughters life.It is no surprise when the majority of the queries say things like “my mother-in-law’ does not let my husband talk to me or that ‘my wife went with my baby to her parents house’ and has refused to return.
Last year when I had my baby at a private hospital I was alarmed at the amount of paperwork we had to sign to show we were consenting to allow each other to touch the baby or even take her home.The nurses told me that the hospital was only trying to avoid legal liability as grandmothers and uncles tend to smuggle away new-born babies just to give grief to the mother and father.This was new to me and honestly disturbing.
Being a mother to three lovely children, my struggle has been to understand what makes marriages fall apart and whether I can play a role to stop the damage a client has suffered.I cringe to think if one foolish mistake made by me could scar my children for life.
This blog is what I feel could save marriages if only people tried.I am going to write a random list of observations as they come to my mind from my experience :
(1) Love marriages (as they occur in Pakistan) mean that the couple will spend most of their life begging their families consciously or subconsciously for social approval.Sooner or later forgiveness will come with reluctance but the relationship will remain damaged.If anyone wishes to marry against their parents will, they should think twice.And Parents should consider hearing out their children too in case they discover that their child has a liking.Developing an immediate dislike to a person just because your child likes them shows immaturity and sorry to say that aged people in Pakistan are not as mature as they should be, mentally.
(2) People agreeing to arranged marriages should understand that they are not doing anyone including their parents a favour and should accept responsibility for how they conduct the marriage.A lady brought into your life by your parents approval still needs your love, time and approval.
(3) Parents who have economic interests with a child will unconsciously detest the very idea of a partner their son/daughter may want in life as it threatens their own financial survival.This is a selfish approach and you should recognise this risk when you decide to fund a relatives lifestyle, as later on when you can no longer fund it, they will seek to destroy your family peace.When one son or daughter gains a good job or economic status, their marriages are delayed and often interfered with by parents and siblings alike.No one cares about having a sick and sad old spinster or bachelor daughter/son or sibling as long as they are paying their bills.This is why you should care and encourage your is
(4) Parents insisting their married child, whether son or daughter lives with them ; unless the parent is literally on the death-bed or immobile, it is selfish to force sons and daughters to live with them by force and emotional blackmail.People divorcing because of these reasons must understand who they are actually damaging.This does not mean you need to leave your parents at an old people’s home but you can always contribute to the cost of hiring a good housekeeper to help them with the daily chores and help around the house.
(5) Parents nagging their son in law or daughter in law over their religious or ethnic background or appearance.If your parents cannot respect a human being for their manners and standing in your life, perhaps you should not allow them to make your life toxic.
Women need to understand that a husband is not necessarily bound to:
(a) financially support their siblings and parents
(b) afford them expensive designer clothes
(c) afford costly trips and visits of in-laws
(d) find comparison with other men in your family in terms of appearance and financial standing
(e) agree with your idea of how you should spend money earned by him.
(f) stop speaking to and calling his family just because you do not like it
(g) approve of your invasion of his phone and computer privacy
(h) approve of your use of social media especially Facebook.
Regarding (h) above, women need to understand that men have a very particular instinct about who is and who is not safe for his family to interact with.Mostly this has nothing to do with his ego or that he is conservative.Women need to understand that they need to hear out their husband’s subtle likes and dislikes to maintain harmony in the house.
Men need to understand that :
(1) They may or may not end up as primary providers of the family.Even if their wife earns more than them, they should appreciate and support her.Changing a baby’s diaper or washing dishes to help a tired wife who has been struggling to support the house does not make you any less of a man.
(2) Anyone who makes fun of you for being too nice to your wife or respecting your in-laws does not have your best interests at heart.
(3) Respect your mothers and sisters but please also respect the woman (your wife) who has sacrificed her dreams to come and live with you on a limited budget.
(4) If your wife is a stay at home mom, do not judge her and say she does nothing all day.Being a mother and wife myself, I know that housework takes a lot of effort and even managing servants is a headache in these modern times.Instead of judging her for not being an excellent cook you can sponsor baking or cooking classes for your wife and encourage her by actually admiring what she does right in life.
(5) Your mother will always love you and see you as a victim of a bad marriage no matter how good your married life is.This is a harsh truth of Pakistani psychology.In fact mothers tend to have a resentment and distrust of any other woman in your life who gets close enough to nurture you and spend time with you.Take it all as an amusing expression of love.When things go south, remember that your wife’s father doesn’t exactly find you to be a ‘model’ son in law for his precious princess.And when things are bad bad bad, you must remember that in roughly two decades, you will find the young man who marries your daughter to be extremely suspicious and incapable even if he is the CEO of a Fortune500 company.Thats the way parents are wired by nature.No one is ever good enough for their precious child.
You see, it all starts when your baby looks at you the first they are born.At that very moment and onwards, there is no other kid more awesome and precious than your baby.And when the baby grows up and starts interacting with other people’s ‘babies’ it becomes very stressful.I use the word babies because in Pakistan our kids really do not grown up until they are well into their 30’s.And God forbid should they become independent and move out before that time, we have a couple of upset parents at our hands.
(6) You must discourage your mother from over-criticising your wife’s culinary and parenting skills.Telling anyone that they are not a good mom is damaging and unfair.Instead politely remind your mother of a time when she may have not been an extremely good parent, perhaps when she took you away to spend three months of summer vacation into the less than comfortable house of your maternal grandparents, just so she could make the wife of her brother uncomfortable.
(7) speaking of number (6) above, the same advice goes for overzealous sisters who view your wife as lazy and judge her housekeeping skills.Sisters are welcome as guests but should not disrupt your family’s peace.Your wife is someone’s sister too.Keep her happy and your sister’s husband will hopefully keep her happy.Good karma goes a long way.
(8) BUT when you see disrespect coming from your wife for your friends and family, it is best to discuss why she may be feeling so resentful and explain to her that she needs to modify her behaviour if her fears are unfounded.If on the other hand she has made a valid observation about your friends or family you should try to hear her out.That being said, formal respect for your family may not be something there can be a compromise on.
(9) Finally, please realise that your wife is not your chattel, she is not a lesser human being and she is not there to cook food for your parents and clean the house.If you give her enough love and understanding maybe she will do this out of love.If she does not, it will not hurt to sponsor the cost for a good hired housekeeper for your parents.Again, please do for your wife what you would expect your brother in law to do for your sister.
The list above is not complete, I will keep adding to it.But all you folks who feel that they are better off divorced, think of your babies and their amazing smile.Divorce is a taboo for a reason, because Allah dislikes it.Think thrice before you marry a person out of race, culture and religion or cast because you will have to be brave enough to live with the consequences later on.If you do not have the guts to override the social norms then don’t waste another life of a man or woman by telling them you can accept them for who they are.
All of us are Muslims (well most of us as we have many many happy non-Muslim people we advise on family matters on a daily basis) and our children are a part of the Muslim Ummah. Think about it, we need to contribute to a strong community of mentally healthy muslim children rather than damaged kids whose parents were too busy fighting over what was posted on Facebook or what other relatives thought of their drawing room sofas.Imagine your kids becoming sick and homeless just because your parents could not stop criticising your wife or husband.The kids need mothers and fathers to live together rather than what their grandmothers and aunties think of their house arrangements.
This was my humble take on our society which has now become plagued with ego, self doubt and an obsession with how cool our life looks on social media.So the next time you have a family dinner, with your wife or a conversation please switch off the TV and the cell-phone and be thankful to Allah for all his mercy on you.
May Allah bless all those people who read this article! Before you are wife and husband you are humans so please give each other and each other’s parents that level of dignity and respect you would give a human.